On the EDge: How compassionate is the Utah Legislature?

OPINION — On the grand stage of national politics, Utah is little more than a bit player, a mere blip on the political radar.

This conservative outpost is virtually inconsequential when it comes to presidential elections or trend-setting legislation and is fairly well regarded by most political analysts as a theocracy that takes its marching orders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It’s a place where the beer is weak and conservative politics are strong. Very strong.

It is also a place that could have a surprising impact when the Legislature convenes Jan. 25.

When Legislators meet for the next session they will debate two bills regarding the legal use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

One bill, sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw (R-Orem) and supported by Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City), would legalize the use of cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound derived from the cannabis plant, for certain medicinal use for patients with HIV/AIDS, certain cancers and epilepsy.

Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) is drafting a broader bill that would legalize the use of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, for medical use. Madsen came up one vote shy of passing a bill legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes last session.

It is expected that his new bill will not be as limited in scope as the Daw-Vickers proposal, offering relief to many more patients. On the compassion level, it ranks much higher.

Either way, it would be a stunning legislative event for Utah and, undoubtedly, open the doors to wider legalization. There isn’t a state in the Union that desires being thought of as less progressive than Utah, the thought being, “If Utah can approve this, so can we.”

At least a dozen states, and quite possibly more, will see voter initiatives next November regarding cannabis legalization — from medicinal to full-out recreational purposes.

If the major polls are accurate, look for most, if not all, to pass despite an attempt that failed in Ohio last month because savvy voters realized that the proposal was a bad one that would have allowed only the 10 people who financed the proposal to grow, distribute and profit from the cannabis trade.

We are also seeing remarkable changes in attitudes worldwide where cannabis is being decriminalized at a rapid pace. Closest to home, Canada and Mexico are making rapid strides to full legalization, prompting an abrupt policy shift by the U.S. State Department.

“It’s up to the people of each nation to decide policies,” John Kirby, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, said shortly after the first bench of the Mexican supreme court ruled by a 4-1 vote that sections of the country’s health laws are invalid.

The justices found that the laws violated the “right to the free development of personality” and were, thus, unconstitutional. The judgment applies only to the four plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit who are now free to grow and consume as much cannabis as they desire legally.

Almost immediately, the court was flooded with similar filings. If the same ruling comes from four of those hearings, it will negate the laws nationally and lift prohibition.

Canada, meanwhile, has elected a new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who promised to remove all prohibitions on cannabis “right away.”

Both countries already have decriminalized cannabis — Canada allows cannabis cultivation, use, possession or purchase from a licensed dispensary for medicinal purposes and Mexico decriminalized possession of up to five grams for personal use.

But, neither has taken further steps because, historically, the U.S. has held the upper hand by having the ability to suspend or halt trade and foreign aid dollars to any country that even whispered that it may legalize cannabis.

That power is evaporating, however, now that Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and the District of Columbia have ended their prohibition and allow for not only medicinal but recreational use as well. California is set to lead the next wave of legalizing recreational use, which, according to many political analysts, could result in federal legalization.

But, Utah is not Canada, Mexico or California, so expect heated debate in the Legislature, where Vickers has dug in his heels, saying “I believe the potential is there for CBD, but not for THC,” and that he is not “interested in even talking about legalizing THC.”

Daw agrees.

“If we’re talking medical cannabis like they have in Colorado, Michigan, California, those other states? That’s a step too far for me,” he said.

Madsen sees his measure as having the greatest hope for those whose chronic suffering is currently being medicated with dangerous opioids that take at least seven Utah lives a month from overdose and the countless others who end up hooked on the powerful medications.

“I’m interested in helping as many people as we can,” Madsen said. “I believe that the people of Utah are at least as smart as the people of 23 other states that have legalized medicinal marijuana.”

He asked that the Legislature “push past generations of propaganda and misleading information and get to the reality about this substance.”

Look, the bottom line on all of this is that there has been a lot of misinformation and fear linked to cannabis use — whether for medicinal or recreational purposes — over the years.

I certainly don’t expect the Legislature to even approach a bill that would allow for legalization for recreational use. It just won’t happen.

But, I don’t think it would be too much to ask for the Legislature to realize that cannabis has tremendous medicinal value to those with serious disease and chronic health issues that would otherwise leave them at the mercy of drugs that are logarithmically more dangerous than cannabis and that can lead to addiction or death.

It all settles around the concept of compassion. How compassionate is the Utah Legislature?

We’ll find out next month.

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.


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  • tiff December 1, 2015 at 7:00 am

    Yes legalize it please!

  • Common Sense December 1, 2015 at 8:11 am

    I would rather they legalize having a keg without being fined or jailed. That’s something that is legal in every state but here. I would also like ALL beer to be available in the grocery store.

  • Terry December 1, 2015 at 8:27 am

    yep legalize, its any where any way, I got off all PAIN PILLS, BLOOD PRESSURE and ANTIDEPRESSANTS Directly DUE TO CANNABIS, UTAH WAKE UP SMELL THAT SMELL!!!!!

  • .... December 1, 2015 at 9:08 am

    I would like to see politicians make decisions concerning Utah instead of the LDS church leaders. and make it illegal to rape children and abuse women in the name of religion. Utah legislature is nothing more than a Mormon puppet. they do as the LDS church leader’s command..

  • Brian December 1, 2015 at 9:42 am

    Why is it that Ed and other liberals can’t make the distinction between an elected officials personal beliefs (which definitely shape his views and policies, which is why we elect them) and a “theocracy that takes its marching orders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”? The LDS Church isn’t giving any marching orders behind closed doors. The elected officials have personal beliefs that are shaped by their membership in the church and their belief in its doctrines, but that is vastly different than a theocracy. And Ed, this pot is very different than the stuff you smoked back in the 60’s. The THC levels today are much, much higher, and physically change your brain. Talk to someone actively using the stuff and look at their productivity and drive, then decide for yourself if the change is good or bad. But the physical change is well documented (http://seattle.cbslocal.com/2015/11/30/high-potency-marijuana-brain-damage/), and (spoiler alert) isn’t good: “Damage to the white matter connections means less efficient communication between brain cells, which itself can be linked to cognitive problems.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/11/28/does-high-potency-marijuana-damage-the-brain/)

    • Chris December 1, 2015 at 10:19 am

      You are amazingly naive, Brian. Yes, marijuana today is stronger than 50 years ago, but (surprise!) users ingest far less than they did in the ’60s. Nevertheless, despite whatever dubious proof you present of marijuana’s danger, why is it the government’s role to tell us what to do with our bodies? You are obviously a liberal in disguise who believes in the “nanny state.”

      • Brian December 1, 2015 at 11:24 am

        On the contrary, liberals have made it the governments job by expanding welfare, healthcare, disability benefits, forgiving student debt, etc, etc. I’m a conservative and I think that people should pay for their own healthcare or health insurance, they’re own schooling, for their own business failures, etc. But I shouldn’t have to pay for healthcare, housing, and welfare for someone that wants to sit around all day smoking pot, rotting their brain and sapping their motivation. However, IF I’m FORCED as a taxpayer to pay for their healthcare, school failure, and unemployed status then I as a taxpayer should also be able to prevent them from doing drugs that make that situation worse (and that is exactly how the liberals are justifying regulating fatty and salty foods, soft drinks, etc). THC (the dangerous, addictive, hallucinogenic part of pot) is going way up (up to 30% vs 2% in the 60’s), and CBD (the medicinal, therapeutic part of pot) is going way down (http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/11/28/does-high-potency-marijuana-damage-the-brain/). To say that people are smoking less pot is ludicrous!

        • LocalTourist December 1, 2015 at 12:19 pm

          CBD levels going down and THC going up? Totally false. The levels can be manipulated, but then it becomes in the best interest of the grower to have the plant reclassified as hemp rather than marijuana, so it can be legally grown in states like Colorado.
          For instance, Charlotte’s Web, the CBD oil from Colorado started off being made from marijuana that was bred so low in THC that it was originally named “Hippie’s Disappointment”. And CBD can offset the negatives of THC, so equal concentrations are better than either cannabinoid alone.
          As far as the THC-brain damage correlation, the study doesnt exactly show that; those users may have already had brain damage before they were studied, according to one of the reasearchers. http://www.leafscience.com/2014/02/23/5-must-know-facts-cannabidiol-cbd/
          It’s like seeing an alcoholic with brain damage that happens to be drinking red wine, and doing a study on his brain and finding brain damage… you cant just say “red wine causes brain damage”. Chances are good the damage was already there before he bought that bottle of wine.
          As far as being forced to pay for social programs, I’m fairly certain you’re willing to take Social Security and Medicare when it gets offered to you, Brian…or will you do the “right thing” and refuse it? I guess I could say what so many LDS say about the church running the show– “if you dont like it, Brian, you can just leave.” I’m sure there’s plenty of cheap real estate avilable in a warm location, like Iraq…..

        • mesaman December 1, 2015 at 6:21 pm

          Stay firm, Brian. The whinos are out to get us but they are in a very small miniority. As for Ed; he has succumbed, once again, to his own capricious ego needs.

        • .... December 2, 2015 at 2:40 am

          It’s amazing Brian just how full of B.S you are

    • 42214 December 1, 2015 at 12:48 pm

      Brian, in Utah the separation of church and state is about 3 blocks.

  • Proud Rebel December 1, 2015 at 10:05 am

    Ed you and I will never see this in our life time. Our grand kids probably will never see it in their lifetimes either. The politicos in Utah know which side of the butter their bread is on. And while folks like Brian claim that the LDS church does not give politicians “marching orders,” they are very busy with individual members of the LDS church telling the politicians what they demand to have. And since the majority of voters in Utah are LDS. . .

    • Brian December 1, 2015 at 11:34 am

      The LDS Church does teach us to be good citizens (a divine seal of approval on the US Constitution is part of our scripture), and part of that is being informed and actively involved, including in politics. The reason we’re in this mess as a nation is because people haven’t been involved and informed, instead specializing in apathy and distraction. So yeah, shame on us for teaching our members to be involved in our communities, informed on issues, and actively involved in local government. But as for parties or specific legislation, they leave that up to the individual. The only exception I can think of is Prop 8, because Christians view that as a fundamental moral principle, and I think they were right getting involved in that and standing up for the traditional family. I wish they’d do it more. Screw the IRS and non-profit status. I wish the LDS Church would voluntarily give up it’s non-profit status so it could speak more freely on moral issues. But that’s just free speech, not even close to a theocracy or “marching orders”, which are just blatant lies.

      • radioviking December 1, 2015 at 2:13 pm

        Brian, why isn’t your church reporting its financial status openly and being transparent? Shouldn’t you and the members be entitled to know? Hmmmm. You of all people should be inquiring your leaders.

        The LDS Church has many HUGE investments. Did Jesus Christ create a corporation? Hmmm

        You’re seem very selective with your logic and skepticism. You take the government over the coals(and rightfully so!), but your church… you seem to be turning a blind eye to some whoppers there, sir. I invite you to be consistent. Be honest with yourself! Have a good one.

        • mesaman December 1, 2015 at 6:26 pm

          What significant difference would it make to your miniscule being? If you have complaints against the LDS religion, why not direct your ire to a spokesman there instead of boring us with your whining and tooth gnashing. Maybe you could have more success asking Jehovah’s Witness members to proclaim their financial records. Either way, their economic conditions are really none of your business.

      • 42214 December 1, 2015 at 4:42 pm

        Brian, here’s a simple question. Could marijuana be legalized in Utah without the church’s blessing?

    • Terry December 1, 2015 at 11:52 am


      • LocalTourist December 1, 2015 at 12:22 pm

        I DO agree with Brian on the “screw the IRS and non-profit status”… can you imagine how low our taxes would be if the church paid its fair share?!

  • .... December 1, 2015 at 10:18 am

    Oh here we go again with another load of Brians Mormon B S. Put on your wading boots folks. itta gonna get deep !

  • ladybugavenger December 1, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    Legalize marijuana!!!

  • .... December 2, 2015 at 2:44 am


    • ladybugavenger December 2, 2015 at 8:41 pm

      Close the borders! Open marijuana shops!

  • .... December 2, 2015 at 9:23 am

    LOL ! What a comedy team Brian and mesaman make. all I could do was laugh at the amount of B.S these two clowns are posting

    • 42214 December 2, 2015 at 10:50 am

      They’re the LDS version of Batman and Robin. Or, Laurel and Hardy?

    • mesaman December 2, 2015 at 5:57 pm

      You, the national purveyor of BS claiming to separate yourself by laughing at the clowns? Try sleeping while standing up, maybe most of your BS will settle in your GI tract not in your cortex.

  • 42214 December 3, 2015 at 8:35 am

    To quote the biggest clown in the room, “Bite me!”

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